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356Comparative Drama MichaelWerth Gelber. TheJustand theLively: TheLiterary Criticism ofJohn Dryden.Manchester: ManchesterUniversityPress; NewYork: St. Martin's Press, 1999. Pp. ? + 342. $59.95. The title of Michael Werth Gelber's book is drawn from John Dryden's working definition ofa play in An EssayofDramatick Poesie, published in 1667, in which he describes a play as ideally encompassing"A just and lively Image of Humane Nature, representing its Passions and Humours, and the Changes of Fortune to which it is subject; for the Delight and Instruction of Mankind" (Works ofJohn Dryden, 17:15). Gelber traces this critical formula through John Dryden's dramatic criticism, focusing on "Dryden's abiding attempt to reconcile opposing strains in literature (the just and the lively), along with the mental faculties (judgment and imagination) in which theyoriginate" (1). The"just" and the "lively" soon double for a variety of competing aesthetic claims and literary traditions. At different points in Gelber's study, the"just" and the"lively" embody the rival claims of (Jonsonian) critical judgment and (Shakespearean) imagination, Jonsonian humours comedy and Shakespearean romance, continental French classicism and native English tragicomedy, the classical unities and the centrifugal romance plot, reason and passion,plot and character, among others. It bears recalling that Lisideius volunteers his"rude Notion" (WorL·, 17: 14) ofa play in Dramatick Poesie only after some promptingby the other speakers and that he emphasizes that his definition is being offered in the spirit of intellectual inquiry that governs their debate. The "just" and the "lively" are understood by the company to be provisional terms,just as the quickly-limned definition of a play is itself, as Crites is quick to point out,"a genere é-ftne, and so not altogether perfect" ( WorL·, 17: 15). In proposing this single pair ofterms as the foundation for his reading ofDryden's extensive and wide-ranging body of criticism, Michael Gelber may assign them more freight than they can reasonably bear. Gelber argues that Dryden's criticism is a coherent body ofwork written in three distinct periods, each correlating not only to a stable, if ultimately provisional , authorial identity but to a different stage in Dryden's thinking about the competing claims ofjudgment and imagination. Dryden thus begins as a courtier , ingratiating himselfwith the aristocratic dedicatees ofhis works, before the appointment as Poet Laureate in 1668 allows him to re-present himself as a professional writer; in the final transformation ofthe chrysalis, after 1680, "he assumes the mantle of an authoritative teacher of literary subjects, ...above and beyond all controversy: he has become a man of letters" (22). This approach usefully challenges the view that the value of Dryden's criticism is compromised by his partisan investments in the controversies of the moment. Reviews357 However, Gelber's reading fails in many instances to reflect the tonal complexities of Dryden's voice in his essays or the fluctuations in his critical stances, in part because Gelber applies his chronological schema to Dryden's career as a writer between 1664 and 1700 too dogmatically. Stephen N. Zwicker's convincing account inPoliticsandLanguage in Dryden'sPoetry: TheArtsofDisguise (1984) ofJohn Dryden's keen awareness ofhis embattled circumstances in the 1690s, after his ouster in the wake of the Glorious Revolution from the offices of historiographer royal and the laureateship he had held in pre-Williamite England, runs counter to Gelber's emphasis on Dryden's serene confidence in his final years. The centerpiece of Gelber's book is his revisionist interpretation of Dramatick Poesie. Gelber argues that readers have been misled into thinking the dialogic structure of Dryden's essay mirrors—and subtly advocates—its humanist investments in the ideal of "Gentlemen, [disputing) with candour and civility" (WorL·, 17:6) literary topics of shared interest. In his view, only Neander's perspective is convincing; the other speakers "argue, by inadvertence , against [themselves]" (46), since Dryden's strategy is to advance a"manifesto " (51) under the guise ofa dialogue. One wonders, in the light of Gelber's insistence that the first three speakers are "forced to espouse arguments that, in the end, destroy their respective positions and pave the way, inexorably, for the victory of Neander" (44), why he is not troubled by the apparent inconsistency ofpredicating...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 356-358
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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